Monday, February 25, 2013

How We Communicate (With Ourselves)

"There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it."
- Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie understood performance.  One of his concepts was that you could change other people's behavior by changing your behavior towards them.  What if we took that approach to ourselves and decided that in order to change our behavior, we change how we communicate to ourselves? 

Go back to the quote at the top. What are you saying to yourself on the golf course?  How are you saying it?  What do you do and how do you look to yourself?  If you think about your contact with yourself, you might find the key to unlocking your greatness on the course. 

Over the years, I have witnessed players employing obvious techniques of self-talk.  I've had players who hit themselves, kicked their putters, pouted, stomped, cried, yelled out loud or clammed up.  I've also seem players fist pump, cue their focus, smile, get squinty-eyed with focus and strut with energy.  They are often overt in either their negativity or positivity.  When players are overt, it is easier to know how to coach them.  It is tough to coach what I cannot witness as a coach and that is self-talk.  

Dr. Seuss is equal to Dale Carnegie in teaching the power of positive thought.  Here is a great quote from him.

What are the players saying to themselves as they make their way around the course? Are they focused or distracted?  Accepting or judgmental? Calm or worried?  Patient or impatient?  Focused outward or inward?  Peaceful or angry?  Kind or mean?  

The more I talk to players, the more I learn about what works and what doesn't.  I had a great conversation with a couple of players after our recent 36 hole day at the Central District Invitational.  On days when we play 36 holes, the players are truly tested.  Their mental game often suffers from sheer exhaustion.  It is easier to give in to the bad self-talk when you are physically worn out.  I mentioned another quote from Dale Carnegie.  It was,

“If you want to conquer fear, don’t think about yourself. Try to help others, and your fears will vanish.” - Dale Carnegie

One of my seniors, Felicia, said, "That is exactly what was helping me on my final 9 holes today."  When I asked her about it, she told me that when she was getting really tired and her shoulder started to ache, she thought about her teammates and not letting them down.  She shifted the focus from herself to others and that allowed her to conquer her negative self-talk and simply replace it with the priority of her team.  Her reaction lead me to yet another Dale Carnegie quote:

“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.”
- Dale Carnegie

When I see players drag themselves around the course, dragging a bag of mistakes behind them, I can see them lose their energy to their problems.  Everyone gets tired on 36 hole days, but players who stay in the moment as they play seem fresher when the day is done than players who replay shots over and over until they have played 72 holes in their head.  The old cliche of staying in the moment is often a product of our self-talk.   


How can you improve your self-talk?  Make it powerful!  Feelings follow actions.  Can you keep your physical reactions to a minimum?  Limiting any negative reactions will keep negative feelings from overwhelming you.  Adding positive physical actions will help you.  A simple smile, a fist pump, a focus cue or a little skip when you think a happy thought are all examples of a feeling leading to action. Mindfulness.  Use the three C's of mindfulness.  Catch your thoughts, challenge your thoughts and change your thoughts.  Just to understand that you aren't a victim to your thoughts is power in and of itself.  Perspective and Attention.  Just as you can be mindful of your thoughts, you can be mindful of your perspective and attention.  A round of golf can be full of suffering or full of joy and amazingly, that choice is not one based on results, but perspective and attention.  That seems so hard to understand when you are stuck in the cycle of reacting to results, but choosing where you place your perspective or attention is the key to maintaining a great attitude.  

Here is the last, but most important Carnegie quote for you to think about when it comes to your self-talk on the golf course:

If you want to check out more about Dale Carnegie go to this site.  You can also check out the Dale Carnegie Leadership Training here. 

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